Isabel Voices ready to launch new season with ‘the breath of life’ concert

The newly rebranded Isabel Voices choir will officially launch their 2023-24 season this Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023, with a performance of Dan Forrest’s composition the breath of life, at the choir’s new home, The Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts. According to Artistic Director Darrell Christie, the concert will feature a large ensemble of over 60 singers, as well as an orchestra with strings, percussion, and piano. 

Christie remarked, “We really picked this piece because it’s an opportunity to not only reflect, but also to think about how we can come together through a shared love of music, as we kind of breathed life into our new organization.”

After performing for several years as the Kingston Chamber Choir, the Isabel Voices officially launched this past summer, as part of a new relationship with the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts. The choir will perform five concerts at the venue this season from November 2023 to early May 2024.

For Christie, the decision to pick the breath of life for the rebranded organization’s first official concert was made due to some of the themes within the piece.

“[There’s] this idea that music can be something that is so healing and so transformative, and Dan Forrest talks about kind of the lifecycle [of] a person’s life, from their first breath to their last breath, and the meaningful moments that happen along the way, and then kind of unites together in our shared humanity and our shared appreciation of music,” he said. 

While Saturday’s concert will feature a performance of the breath of life by the Isabel Voices’ large 60-person ensemble, the choir’s smaller 30-voice — “semi-professional” ensemble — will also be on hand, performing a selection of music by Jake Runestad, alongside a string quartet. 

According to Christie, Saturday’s concert has been built around themes of shared love and renewal. “This idea that people are coming together for a shared love of music, for community, and I think we’re really starting the first step in a new journey for our organization. We evolved from the Kingston Chamber Choir, which was a smaller 28-singer organization. We’ve now moved all of our performances and rehearsals to the Isabel, and we’re so thrilled to have taken on the name The Isabel Voices, and to call the Isabel our home,” he said.  

Several years removed from the COVID-19 pandemic, Christie said audiences have been eager to return to the shared musical experiences their concerts offer, with a renewed sense of appreciation for the impact of live performance.

“People want to share those experiences and have those kinds of communal musical experiences, but… since COVID, [people] are also now appreciating so much more the impact those shared experiences have,” he remarked.

While audiences are certainly appreciative of the shared experience, Christie explained the feeling is the same amongst the choir’s singers: “For a lot of our singers during COVID, not being able to get together and sing together was a monumental loss, and not just for the act of singing but for the act of coming together as a group of people and being able to spend the time together.” 

After Saturday’s performance, the Isabel Voices will take to the stage four more times this season, with their next performance, A Festive Celebration, set for Sunday, Dec 10, at 2:30 p.m. All concerts this season will feature performances by both Isabel Voices ensembles, presenting an exciting new venture for the 18-year-old organization. 

According to Christie, having two different vocal ensembles allows the organization to include singers of a wide range of backgrounds and experiences.

“Our smaller ensemble is around [30] voices and is kind of a semi-professional ensemble in which they’re rehearsing the music at home alone, and then coming together for a few rehearsals before the concert. It’s a lot of voice students, graduate students, professors from Queen’s, [and] professional singers from the community,” he said, noting that the smaller ensemble has just three rehearsals as a group before the public concert. 

Meanwhile, the larger Isabel Voices ensemble features a wide range of amateur singers from the Kingston community.

“This is an opportunity for singers of all different levels of experience to be able to sing with Isabel Voices in this beautiful concert hall. We have voice graduates in the large ensemble, along with people singing in a choir for the first time,” Christie explained.

While the smaller ensemble conducts the bulk of their rehearsals independently at home, the larger group rehearses every Monday evening at the Isabel. Many members of the smaller ensemble also sing with the larger 60-person group. 

As Artistic Director for such a large choir, Christie gets to work with dozens of singers, all with different backgrounds and talents. He explained how it feels getting to lead such a diverse group of performers: “The thing that I love most is connecting with people and learning about people’s stories and sharing stories… Music is just the thing I do that allows me to do that. Music is secondary in some ways because, really, it’s all about the people that we have an opportunity to interact with every day. It’s about the shared moments in rehearsal or performance, those moments where we can lift one another… support each other… and music is just the vehicle that I use to do that.” 

Considering the last several years have been a bit of a transition period for the choir, with the COVID-19 pandemic and the organization working out a new partnership with the Isabel, Christie said he is excited about all the new opportunities that lie ahead.

“Firstly, to be able to bring so many different singers onto the Isabel stage. Singing in that space is, I think, a transformative experience,” he noted. 

Christie also explained he’s looking forward to officially launching the rebranded organization, in front of what is expected to be a near-capacity crowd at the celebrated concert venue this weekend.

Isabel Voices during a rehearsal of Dan Forrest’s the breath of life on Monday, Oct. 30, 2023. Submitted photo.

“I’m really excited for our audiences to be able to see what we’ve been working on. We made a commitment to create an organization that had a place for everybody within it… We wanted to make choral music something which everybody could see themselves as part of,” he said.  

While choral music spans centuries, The Isabel Voices is committed to performing contemporary music, featuring a blend of new arrangements as well as familiar selections audiences know and love.

“I think they’re pieces that will resonate with our audience; pieces about kindness, pieces about the hope of loving, pieces that really connect us to each other and tell stories that are relevant in today’s contemporary world,” explained Christie. 

The Isabel Voices’ performance of the breath of life is set for Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023, at 7:30 p.m. at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts (390 King Street West). Additional information, including a list of all 2023-24 concerts is available on the choir’s website

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